Three local students who received their early education from Bakersfield now find themselves as graduate students at Harvard University.
Cori Price, Spencer Bateman, and Alyxandra Darensbourg are on their way to graduating from the prestigious Ivy League school. One thing they can all agree on is that the educational experience they received in Bakersfield was what Harvard.
Price, 31, attended McKinley Elementary and graduated from Ridgeview in 2006. She credits her early educational experience in Bakersfield for helping define her academic path. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Religion and Society from Harvard.
"I think what defined my academic trajectory in particular was elementary school at McKinley Elementary," said Price. "That really set the pace and tone for my commitment to education but also my interest in academics."
Price said the teachers she was able to encounter not only helped, but pushed her to believe she could excel academically. She specifically credits Mr. John LaGore, who was a teacher at McKinley when Price attended.
"He set expectations for students that were beyond what we thought we were capable of achieving, he was very instrumental in setting a tone for my interest in learning," said Price.
Bateman, 23, who graduated from Centennial High in 2013, credits the advanced placement classes he took in high school for preparing him for his Harvard Law courses.
"I think we were prepared to do well. They were definitely very different than the other kind of high school classes because they were much more hands-on in the type of learning that we were doing," he said.
A specific class Bateman recalls that helped him realize his career goal was 'We the People' program — a constitutional debate program in which seniors are placed in teams and they are assigned specific questions that mostly deal with the U.S. Constitution. Teams research and write a presentation based off the questions they are given and they later go on to present them in front of judges.
"I think if there is any one thing I can point to as leading me to coming (to Harvard) and pursing a law degree was that class," said Bateman.
Attending an Ivy League school , where courses are believed to be harder than at a public university, is challenging. Darensbourg said it's one of the toughest challenges she's faced.
The 29-year-old, who graduated from Centennial High in 2007, recalls finding her first year at Harvard Law School difficult because of how different the courses were.
"The classes are different, I think that law school, no matter where you go, is really different from undergrad," she said.
Despite the tough academic challenges she has faced, Darensbourg says she keeps pushing forward.
"More or less you're going to be measured against people who have very different backgrounds than you and that is something that you have to just accept and I think what has been helpful to me is to say, 'I'm keeping up even with people who were set up to do this better than I was'," she said.
Overall, all three students say they wouldn't be at Harvard if it wasn't for the academic experience they received while in Bakersfield.
Price will graduate this May, while Bateman and Darensbourg are on track to graduate with a Juris Doctor degree in 2020.